Q: Is there a connection between excessive video game playing and increased anxiety levels? My son is 14 and has some basic anxieties like walking the dog at night that I feel are made worse by the first-person shooter games he plays. I’d love to understand if you have seen any connections here.
–Grappling with Gaming, in Westfield, NJ
A: Dear Grappling,
As a parent, you are the best monitor of your son’s well-being. If you have seen an increase in his anxiety that has paralleled his increase in first-person shooter (FPS) game play, then it is probably worth seeing what happens if he cuts back on or eliminates playing these games. Research supports what you are observing—it has found that children and adolescents frequently respond to media violence with increased fear and anxiety, because action entertainment makes violence seem more prevalent than it actually is.
Suggest that your son stop playing video games for a while. This will be easier said than done—he will not want to stop playing, and he will probably resist in every way he can. Talk about your concerns with him, and remind him that his resistance may, in fact, indicate that he might be developing an addictive relationship with gaming. If nothing else, he will stop because he wants to prove he can. Then pay attention to his behavior and see whether his anxiety diminishes.
If he doesn’t think he can stop gaming or the anxiety doesn’t go away—that is, if either piece is limiting his life in some way—then it would be good to have him evaluated by a therapist. And remember that anxiety can affect a teen’s well-being in subtler ways, such as through increased distraction, which could appear to be ADHD.
Finally, encourage your son to pursue other activities he enjoys. Increasing physical activity and getting outdoors can reduce anxiety and increase quality of life in all kinds of ways.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,